November 22, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

instructionsnotincludedOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Instructions Not Included – or, to give it its correct Spanish title, No Se Aceptan Devoluciones – is a Mexican comedy-drama film directed by and starring Eugenio Derbez which, contrary to all expectations, became an enormous box office success when it first hit cinemas in August 2013. At the time of writing is the fourth highest-grossing foreign language film of all time at the US Box Office with almost $45 million, just behind such acclaimed works as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Life is Beautiful and Hero. Derbez, who is an enormous star in his native Mexico, plays Valentín, an Acapulco playboy whose freewheeling lifestyle is thrown into turmoil when a one-night stand shows up on his doorstep, and leaves their baby – Maggie – behind. Valentín and Maggie travel to Los Angeles to try to find the baby’s mother, but as the years go by the pair develop an unexpectedly strong bond, as fatherhood forces Valentín to abandon his reckless ways and become a responsible parent. However, as is always the case in these sorts of films, circumstances threaten to break father and daughter apart…

The score for Instructions Not Included is by Italian composer Carlo Siliotto, who relocated to Los Angeles following his Golden Globe nomination for Nomad in 2005, but who since then has continued to work mainly on European and non-English language projects. Instructions Not Included is his most high-profile score since Under the Same Moon in 2007 (a film which, ironically, co-starred Eugenio Derbez), and I hope beyond hope that its financial success allows Siliotto to reclaim some of the ascendancy he had in the early 2000s, because a composer of his talent should be working consistently on major movies. The score for Instructions Not Included is absolutely wonderful, and unexpectedly old-fashioned, thematic, romantic delight that captures the essence of the father-daughter relationship central to the film with truth and compassion. This type of unashamedly sentimental music is passé in mainstream Hollywood, but it apparently thrives, alive and well, in Mexico; evidently Mexican audiences and film producers aren’t shy about wanting their films to have scores which convey the emotions in a direct and sincere way.

The word “sweetness” isn’t used to describe many scores these days, but that’s exactly what Instructions Not Included has in abundance. It’s the type of score that Bruce Broughton, or Randy Edelman, or Marc Shaiman would write for a film like this, with all the positive connotations those comparisons bring, except that with Siliotto writing the music you also get a sunny, European sensibility too, with echoes of Nino Rota and even Ennio Morricone in the music. There’s a real sense of warmth, and an appealing heart to Siliotto’s music here that is very compelling.

The score is built primarily around three central themes. The opening piece, “Johnny Bravo”, is a delicate cue that acts as a recurring theme for Valentín, which begins with a gentle piano and harp duet but gradually develops into a flowing, slightly circus-like theme including guitars, woodwinds and ‘magical’ percussion that is quite lovely, and captures the carefree and slightly childlike worldview Valentín has. The theme crops up again in “Miedo en la Quebrada” in a lyrical flute setting, and in a slightly downbeat version in “Tratamiento”. The second theme is a pretty piano piece which acts as a motif for Maggie, and really captures both her simple innocence and her charming influence over her worldly father. First heard in “Carta de Mamá” surrounded by bright Mediterranean orchestrations, it develops into a lush waltz-like variation in “Me Llamó Julie”, and continues through the poignant “Maggie Conoce a Julie” into an utterly gorgeous piano and cello duet in the heartbreaking “La Pareja de Julie”.

However, the score’s third primary theme, representing the relationship between Valentín and Maggie, is certainly the most beautiful. First appearing in “Nunca Fui a la Luna” on soft strings augmented by woodwinds, it continues through a whispery piano variation in “Julie se Despide”, and a sweeping statement augmented by a female vocalist in “El Juez Lobo” which is quite stunning and reminiscent of the vocals the great Edda dell’Orso provided for Morricone on so many occasions over the years.

Some mickey-mouse pizzicato sneaking around music typifies cues such as “Perro Entra al Hotel”, “Negociación”, and the florid and slightly wacky “Los Perros de la Abuela”, the first of which restates Valentín’s theme in the plucked and bowed strings. There are even a few moments of slightly more tense music where Siliotto allows for an increased brass presence, notably during “Valentín Brinca y Salta a Maggie”, the bold “El Cubo”, the serious and dramatic (but brief) “Prueba de Paternidad”, the strident “Flashback” and the opening few moments of “Raid de Vuelta”, which is the closest the score comes to having an action cue.

Everything comes to a fabulous conclusion in the finale cue, “En Familia (Hombre de Piedra)”, which begins with a brief performance by the solo vocalist, and moves through a pretty re-statement of Maggie’s piano theme, before emerging into several spine-tingling fully orchestral performances of Valentín and Maggie’s ‘Father and Daughter’ theme that are quite stunningly beautiful, especially when the two themes play in counterpoint to one another. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that these five minutes of score represent some of the best music I have heard from Siliotto to date.

The soundtrack album is rounded out by a handful of Spanish language songs, both traditional and contemporary. The centerpiece is Benny Ibarra’s song “Sueña Corazón” which is built around Siliotto’s main piano melody theme for Valentín, and has a sense of sincere tenderness. Natalia Lafourcade’s “Ella Es Bonita” is a fluffy piece of bubblegum pop, “Te Mando Flores” by Fonseca is an appealing Latin-flavored ballad, “Flowers” is a poetic English-language song performed sweetly by pianist Christian Basso and vocalist Haien Qiu, and “Cuando Calienta el Sol” is an old fashioned trío piece from the 1960s, while the two songs by Los Straightjackets – “Aerostar” and “New Siberia” – are hugely enjoyable guitar-driven rock instrumentals, with the latter having an especially notable Quentin Tarantino/surf-rockabilly vibe.

The soundtrack for Instructions Not Included was released by Sony Music Mexico, and may be difficult to come by in English-speaking territories, but I absolutely recommending seeking it out if you have the opportunity to do so. This is the type of music I love; honest, earnest, emotionally direct, multi-thematic, intelligently structured, carefully and appropriately orchestrated, and cathartic at its end. The fact that it was written for a Mexican comedy film should not dissuade anyone from taking a chance – in fact, it’s probably my favorite comedy score of 2013.

Buy the Instructions Not Included soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Sueña Corazón (performed by Benny Ibarra) (3:43)
  • Ella Es Bonita (performed by Natalia Lafourcade) (3:17)
  • Come Fly With Me (performed by Frank Sinatra) (3:17)
  • Aerostar (performed by Los Straitjackets) (2:50)
  • Te Mando Flores (performed by Fonseca) (3:52)
  • La Ciudad (performed by Monsieur Periné) (3:09)
  • Flowers (performed by Christian Basso feat. Haien Qiu) (3:28)
  • Cuando Calienta el Sol (performed by Los Hermanos Rigual) (2:13)
  • Animal (performed by Agrupación Cariño) (3:20)
  • New Siberia (performed by Los Straitjackets) (3:30)
  • Johnny Bravo (2:06)
  • Perro Entra al Hotel (1:08)
  • Valentín Brinca y Salta a Maggie (1:06)
  • Miedo en la Quebrada (0:52)
  • Carta de Mamá (2:36)
  • Tratamiento (1:01)
  • Me Llamó Julie (1:00)
  • Maggie Conoce a Julie (1:17)
  • La Pareja de Julie (1:41)
  • Negociación (1:38)
  • El Cubo (0:30)
  • Nunca Fui a la Luna (1:51)
  • Julie Se Despide (1:34)
  • Los Perros de la Abuela (2:02)
  • El Juez Lobo (2:19)
  • Prueba de Paternidad (0:38)
  • Flashback (0:40)
  • Raid de Vuelta (1:16)
  • En Familia (Hombre de Piedra) (5:31)

Running Time 63 minutes 28 seconds

Sony Music Mexico 888837762922 (2013)

Music composed and conducted by Carlo Siliotto. Performed by The Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Carlo Siliotto. Recorded and mixed by Marco Streccioni. Album produced by Carlo Siliotto.

  1. Christopher
    November 22, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Sounds wonderful! Thanks for the review, Jon. I will seek this out.

  2. November 23, 2013 at 8:09 am

    I had the same reaction Jon. It is simply a beautiful effort by Siliotto, and like Fluke, endearing. Nice review.

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